Anorexia - a teenagerís worst nightmare

Hazel McCallion Senior Public School
Mississauga, Ontario

By Becky P. (Grade 7)

"I canít stand myself anymore. I pray to God to help me punish myself with more pain Ö All I hear when I do take care of myself is, "Youíre disgusting! How can you let yourself be content? How dare you keep living?"

This passage is from a letter written by Julie, a young woman suffering from anorexia. Anorexia is a severe condition that affects about 13,000,000 teenage girls around the world and one that destroys every aspect of their life. People that develop anorexia usually share the same characteristics. They are very critical of themselves and are perfectionists. Generally, anorexics are caregivers and usually deny themselves of their own needs.

Most of the health problems that accompany anorexia are caused by starvation. Since the body of an anorexic is unbalanced and does not get the proper care because of the lack of nutrients, the body defends the heart and the brain, its vital organs. A very dangerous thing that occurs to the body is a lowering of fluid and electrolyte levels (sodium, potassium, hydrogen, etc.). This can be very dangerous because it can cause breathing, pulse and blood pressure to slow down, and menstrual periods to stop. Lack of potassium can lead to muscle weakness, abdominal bloating, nervous irritability and other horrible complications. Similiarly, electrolyte imbalances can be very serious since the person will usually appear healthy but, as a result of the loss of these electrolytes, many anorexics die of kidney or heart failure.

Anorexia is only a devastating symptom of a much greater problem. This problem is the Confirmed Negativity Condition (CNC). CNC begins in early life and can lead to other syndromes, such as depression, agoraphobia, panic attacks, etc. CNC sufferers donít always have eating disorders but anorexics always have CNC.

Peggy Claude-Pierre, an eating disorder specialist and founder of Montreux clinic for CNC victims, says that an eating disorder is to CNC what a rash is to measles or swollen glands is to mumps; a symptom of an underlying problem. "It might help to think of CNC (the Negative Mind) as a parasite that attempts to consume the Actual Mind, its host," says Claude-Pierre. Take the example of anorexic girl whose inner voice said to her, "Youíre not going to get better, instead youíll get worse. You wish someone would come along and save the day. No one would want to see you better. Theyíll hate you regardless. Youíre fat. Everyone else is tricking you. You can only listen to me and do what I tell you to do."

Although anorexia is only a symptom of CNC, it is a serious disorder which affects millions of women around the world and can lead to painful death by starvation. Anorexia is basically a war between the Negative Mind and the Actual Mind in which the stronger, Negative Mind takes over. Take the case of Julie, "I am a bad person, I hate myself when I eat ..." she writes. "I donít want to live because Iím too ashamed. I want to be small ... I want to be little again, please let me be little again. Iím too afraid to live, Iím too embarrassed to be seen. I am a terrible, evil person."

For someone to be diagnosed with anorexia, he/she must have the following symptoms: refusal to maintain minimum body weight of their age and height (less than 80% of the expected weight) and the intense fear of getting fat even though he/she is extremely underweight. In females who have had their first period (post-menarcheal), the absence of at least three menstrual cycles (amenorrhea) is also a symptom.

There is no "one" cause of anorexia, although many things can push a CNC sufferer over the edge. One myth of anorexia is that the victims donít want to grow up. Experts say that case studies show time and time again that the fear of growing up may be a consequence of anorexia but it is not a cause. Some things that may push a victim of CNC over the edge may include: a major change in their life, a family problem (divorce), a change in schools, a family move, the loss of boyfriend or girlfriend, or a serious illness. Some minor changes may also lead to anorexia but they, alone, canít cause the illness. A few could include teasing from classmates or siblings, or from a dance teacher or an athletic instructor who makes a comment about dropping a few pounds.

Life is tough for a CNC sufferer. They are constantly bombarded with images of the perfect body and the message that "thinner is better". Magazines give women advice on how to become thinner by eating less, exercising more and eating fat-free meals. Since women know itís possible to become thinner, CNC sufferers feel they must become thinner to please everyone, which is where the problem begins. "Most people believe black folks donít suffer from eating disorders. Mos think that itís a white thing. But the truth is that a growing number of black women are living in the secret and dangerous worlds of anorexia and bulimia," writes writer and dancer Mary Browne in Essence (June, 1993). Because of the media, people of all races and societies have similar ideas of an ideal body image. Since anorexia is also food-related, the horrible disease does not threaten people in countries that struggle for basic survival needs.

Young women are, by far, the most prone to anorexia. Because there is more pressure on women (mostly from the media) to become thin, only five to ten per cent of anorexics are men. Twelve is the average age for a girl to become anorexic, although it has been known to occur in girls as young as eight (this is very rare).

Males usually develop the disease in their late teens and early twenties. Although anorexia is gender-related, CNC is not. Therefore, many young men may have CNC, without having full-blown anorexia. Young men involved in sports where weight is a factor (gymnastics, wrestling, jockeys, models, actors) are most at risk. Also at risk are men who are confused about their sexuality or gay men. Although anorexia affects only about one and a half million men, males that have eating disorders are in more serious trouble because they get ostracized as they are thought to have a "womenís disease".

When trying to help a friend, you must remember that there is not much an outsider can do to help an anorexic because the anorexic must make the decision to get well for herself. It is important for anorexics to have therapy and the therapists must be experienced with eating disorders. Remember that the eating disorder is only a symptom of a greater emotional problem, so itís importan not to say certain things that might hurt their feelings.

"Are you sick?"
"Why donít you eat?"
"Donít do this to yourself!"

Thereís a lot of guilt involved with anorexia, and anorexics donít choose to be this way. Victims often want help but feel they are either a burden or that they donít deserve it.These are the first steps to recovery.

If an anorexic is in a life-threatening situation, she should be hospitalized until she is brought back to good health and then treated. During hospitalization, itís important that the patient does not get punished for her actions because it is her condition that is making her act this way. Victims must not be told their weight or told that they can leave when they reach a certain weight during their recovery in hospital. If a loved one wants to approach a family member who has anorexia, he/she might say, "Weíre concerned about you. We want you to get the help you need. This isnít your problem, itís our problem, and weíll all work together until youíre better." The victim will insist that she is not sick since she doesnít want to be a burden but see only acts this way because of the Negative Mind. If you know thereís something seriously wrong then, "you might have to force the anorexic to get help," says Claude-Pierre. "Itís definitely worth it in the end." She says, "Sometimes a dire situation demands that I feed a child when she refuses to eat for anyone else. Even though she may resist feeding before I start, immediately afterward, she begs me not to let her go and insists on me convincing her she is not bad."

"When treating an anorexic, it is important to place anorexia on one side, and the victim on the other. This is so she understands that the illness is not who she is, but merely a parasite she is hosting," says specialist Claude-Pierre. Remember to love your child (or loved one) unconditionally and let them know that they will never, ever be a burden to you.

Although anorexia is so horrible and sounds so helpless, there is still hope. Fifty per cent of diagnosed and treated anorexics will recover fully within two to five years.

Here is a poem from a recovered anorexic, who now embraces every aspect of life:

I leap into the world
Embracing the sunlight
Fearlessly chasing the shadows
Which before I would run from
I laugh at myself
At the pure joy
The smiling faces
Children caught in a spiderís web
Of wonder and delight
At a world still fresh and new
Itís only a normal day
But only if I want it to be.

Anorexia is a severe problem that destroys millions of teenagerís lives around the world. It will continue to devour more victims unless we learn to inform others of the truth surrounding the disorder. With unconditional love, and around-the-clock treatment, there can be a happy ending to the story. Thousands of lives may be saved, and millions of hearts can be healed.

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